The new Alien
game is scary as shit, and I say about as much over at Kill Screen.
What I don't really get to, because I assumed my editor didn't want to wade through another potential 15k words, is what I played in preparation for Alien: Isolation
. I didn't watch the original movie, though maybe I should have, even if I've seen it a couple times before. Didn't really consider anything that might be attached to the "horror" designation. As I saw above, not really into horror.
All the preamble to this game keyed in on the atmosphere. It looks great, it sounds great, but will it play great? I wasn't terribly concerned about that even. Playing great is rather subjective.
So, considering A: I
before I had even stepped up to review it, I was reminded of two other games, Gone Home
and The Stanley Parable
. Reminded primarily because I'd had them both in my Steam list forever but hadn't gotten around to them yet. A: I
, it had been said before release, would not let you kill the alien. You were outmatched on the offense, your only strategy as Amanda Ripley was to keep an eye on your surroundings and make note of all the best hiding places.
You aren't really hiding from anything in Gone Home
, there aren't any enemies to kill. Just a young woman, returning to a home she did not grow up in because the family moved while she was away at college and exploring Europe. And no one is there. The house is empty. I knew this going in, and it was still scary as shit. At the beginning it was the dark, silent hallways. Strange sounds within, pounding rain on the windows, and locked mysterious doors. Though the lead character, Kaitlin, presumably knows a bit of the history going on here, much of what you and she discover is fresh gossip. Parents flailing as parents, lovers, creative and professional beings. A sister lost as a teenager in that typical, sad way, both aggressor and victim.
All of this is picked up as you wander the house and peek through their shit. Familiar ghosts that you left behind but somehow kept living and growing all the more. I imagine my feelings while wandering through the house of learning much of this for the first time were pretty close to what Kaitlin might have actually felt, which is a triumph of both the narrative and its design. By the end, my heart rate had a noted increase as I hurried to the attic to find out what had happened to Samantha. Not because I was being chased or fearful for my own life, but because I was genuinely concerned for my sister.
That's what good art/literature/game-design accomplishes, the transposition of the player/reader into another self so as to gain experiences they might not otherwise access.
Which is why I had such a good time running from the alien. Like Gone Home
, the sound and interactive stage were constructed for peak immersion. Anytime I might be threatened to pull out of the narrative, some small click or gurgle or flash ahead drew me forward. It's hard to quit, because just getting to the save point is a thrill. Those save points are so spread out that I was less willing than ever to run and gun or play it loose. Many other games go to great lengths to impart the wisdom of carefully considered steps, but A: I
had the gumption to carry through with the consequences of failure in that regard. In many ways it was Gone Home
, in space, while being chased by a deadly alien who could, at best, only be distracted away for a moments.
The tension in each is palpable, but while I was afraid for my sister in Gone Home
the alien had me sweaty and tense in fear of losing my own life. Which is strange, because in most other games such a situation is mostly an annoyance, a quick reset away. If I die in those games is the game's fault, so we say. But A: I
was so clearly designed to put the player into weak, frail, human shoes that to expect otherwise would be a quick disappointment and quicker death.
But you would die, and on the next try, the alien would be a little more mysterious. Not unlike The Stanley Parable
, though that mystery is clearly scripted and demands multiple paths. And it's always the user's choice that determines that path. At the beginning though, it doesn't really need to be the same thing twice, though.
You/Stanley die a lot in that game, if you so choose. You can run around willy-nilly and it won't necessarily help. You have to listen and react accordingly, though not as prescribed, which you learn as you play. One of my favorite elements of that game is that, randomly(?) it changes up the order of hallways and rooms. So as you die and die in an effort to plumb every crumb of the narrative, at one point the very beginning is just slightly different. I would feel both confused and energized, like, I've played this hallways so many dang times, there's no way that it was ever like this. But it still (usually) leads to the room with two doors, and there isn't much more than that.
You can run the eerily-light hallway over and over again, but the alien isn't predictable. Each scramble is mostly fresh, though of course the space station doesn't shift once you bleed out so you can get a feel for the hallways and where you need to go and the best spots for hiding as you crab-walk through. But the alien, it mixes things up. The humans and synthetics not so much, but they carry their brand of discomfort.
Mostly though, these three games have you walking and gawking and getting into it. Other titles get the blood pumping by jumps or hordes, but here, you're given a fascinating world with tense conditions and then let off the leash, more or less. I really appreciate being funneled into an experience that doesn't depend solely on my twitchiness or familiarity with how the best-selling games of yore worked.